The BBC describes Hard Sun as a ‘pre-apocalyptic crime show’, which, as genres go, is a new one on me – like Deep Impact crossed with Vera.
On one level, it’s your standard hackneyed police drama, with Jim Sturgess and Agyness Deyn as Hicks and Renko, a mismatched pair of maverick cops with shady pasts and a complicated relationship with authority. He’s still brooding over the death of his last DI, and warns Renko no-one could ever replace him (which is a bit rich, as he’s sleeping with his widow), while she’s secretly running a covert op on him from an incident room in the loft of her hotel suite. With me so far? Good.
The big twist, though, is that the Earth is five years from an ‘extinction-level event’ – which is why Hard Sun is the only cop show on television to credit Professor Brian Cox as a special advisor – leaving our heroes struggling to keep the peace as the Doomsday Clock ticks inexorably closer to midnight.
The high-concept premise was inspired by David Bowie’s end-of-the-world anthem Five Years, and Deyn – the one-time Lancashire chip shop worker turned international model and actress – cuts a suitably Bowie-esque, androgynous figure as Renko. Great work, too, from Sturgess, labouring beneath a weight of character clichés that might have sunk a lesser actor.
Writer Neil Cross created the heroically daft Luther and this is, if anything, even more ludicrous. Plus, anyone hoping 2018 might bring some relief from the recent relentless tide of screen misery and violence will have been dismayed by the opening scene, in which Renko was repeatedly stabbed by her own son – who she in turn jabbed in the face with a fork – before being doused in petrol and left for dead in her burning home. Happy New Year to you too.
For all that, it’s an idea with potential – particular as the eschatological cranks and death cults start crawling out of the woodwork – and Hicks and Renko’s escape from MI5 spooks was genuinely nerve-shredding stuff. Plus, if you really don’t like it, at least it shouldn’t run for more than five series.
Inside No 9
Hot on the heels of their acclaimed League of Gentlemen revival, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s comedy anthology series returned with a dizzyingly clever Shakespearian farce (in actual iambic pentameter), then raised its game still further with this week’s funny, unbearably poignant tale of a washed-up comedy double act reuniting for one last curtain call. The result – think Samuel Beckett, but with more jokes about Blankety Blank and The Grumbleweeds – was pure genius.
ITV isn’t exactly known for its commitment to the arts these days (even The South Bank Show’s gone to Sky), but you certainly can’t accuse this new art history series of dumbing down. On the contrary, its first edition told the story of the life and works of Canaletto, via digressions into everything from 18th century Italian opera and the mercantile history of Venice to the War of Austrian Succession and a demonstration of traditional printmaking techniques. Not exactly Love Island, is it?
Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 11, 2018
(c) Waitrose Weekend